The Who Gets Remixed to Reach New Generation in Ads

As Recorded Music Sales Continue to Shrink, Classic Rockers Open Up Back Catalog for Licensing Opportunities

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Anyone familiar with The Who's "Sell Out" album from 1967 will remember it for many great things: the magazine-ad-style cover art (featuring Roger Daltrey photographed in a bathtub of Heinz baked beans), classic songs like "I Can See for Miles" and the Monty Pythonesque commercial jingles between the tracks. It was all done with the caustic irony of youth as band members Mr. Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon used their art to cope with their rapid rise to fame and fortune.

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Shot by John Picklap, Edited by Nathan Skid

Now, in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the band's first album, Mr. Townshend has given his blessing to remixes of 15 great Who songs -- including "My Generation," "Baba O'Riley" and "I'm Free" -- to introduce the band to a new generation of fans. Unusually, the remixes have been created with the initial aim of seeking licensing opportunities for commercials, movie trailers and TV. "The idea of remixing the songs came about because Pete mentioned to his publisher, Spirit, that he had the original multitrack tapes for most of the band's classic songs," said Kris Roggemann, creative producer at music-production agency Mophonics, which led A&R on the project alongside Spirit. "We didn't want to just take songs to use as great lyric hooks for ads, but to also re-create great music that people would want to listen to," said Peter Shane, Spirit's senior VP-creative. Universal Music is also on board to release a remixes album, possibly early next year to mark the anniversary.

Mr. Townshend loved the outcome. "A lot of work [went] into these, especially because the respect shown by the remixes to the original songs and song shapes. I know that makes remixing harder, and less fun for them, but a lot of fun for me," he wrote in an email shared with Ad Age.

The idea that the Who might create an album of remixes for advertisers might have once seemed unlikely, but not to rock critic Sean Murphy of PopMatters. "Pete is such a smart guy, one of the more intelligent artists of that great era," said Mr. Murphy. "The funny thing is he kind of inoculated himself years ago against accusations of being a sellout because he can say he predicted it in his songs."

As global recorded music sales continue to shrink -- down nearly 50% in the last decade and a half -- artists, their managers and music executives have become more willing to work with brands, which can help with exposure and discovery for newer artists, gain wider distribution for current pop stars and reintroduce older catalogs to young music fans.

Synchronization departments at publishers have become one of the fast-growing sectors of the music business in recent years as they've more aggressively pitched opportunities to advertisers and TV producers. Sync licensing generated some $750 million for the music industry last year, according to the National Music Publishers' Association and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

The trend is not necessarily to cut and paste the latest pop song into a commercial. Publishers will often have to adapt songs through cover versions, according to Ron Broitman, exec VP-head of synchronization at Warner/Chappell Music. "The power of a classic song, the message of those lyrics can be interpreted in a different manner," he said. "You're still getting all the impact of the song and its recognizability."

"Our advertising clients are getting smarter and more creative," said Brian Monaco, exec VP-advertising, film and TV at Sony/ATV Music. He recently commissioned a new version of Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed" by little-known artist Mozella for Chrysler. "They wanted a new fresh sound to it. It's another trend to help reduce costs while modernizing the sound of a classic song."

The ad industry has also recognized the need to move away from its "traditionally lazy relationship" with music, which used to be just a backing track to a brand, said Stephen Butler, chief creative officer, TBWAChiatDay LA. "The idea now is to be additive to the process by creating new music and content for millennials that doesn't draw a line in the sand like previous generations used to do."

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